Poems: Body PartsBMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7218.1207a (Published 30 October 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1207
When I move my arm, I'm reminded
by a scything pain
that death the reaper is not just
an illustrative Mediaeval woodcut.
Behind my back, my doctor stoops
to confide in my tendons.
‘Aha, scapula,’ he says
as if to soothe it with the sound
of its Latin name.
To me, off-hand, he enquires:
‘Does it hurt when you shrug?’
My answer's a shrug, and it does.
He chuckles diagnostically
shakes his head and consoles:
‘Poor large, flat, triangular bone.’
He admonishes me: ‘You're a writer, eh?
An unhealthy profession.
All those drinks with publishers, agents
of death. No doubt you smoke
while you write and while you don't
while you wait for your great inspiration.
Don't talk to me about Balzac.
All those cups of strong black coffee
all that burning the midnight oil—
I know what you chaps get up to.
Contemplating the eternal verities
is very bad news for the scapula.
Give up literature, my friend—
your shoulder blade will thank you for it.'
In the night my wanton ear
grows invisible tendrils of hearing
No doubt if it were a hand it
would reach out for something:
the footfall of a lover returning;
a sigh without resignation;
the whispered insinuation
of your dress on your skin.
My adulterous ear, it savours
their textures and their tints
until, grown corrupt with longing
it steals away from me in sleep.
It lets itself out of the house
listens down along the street
receives the whisper of a mist.
My ear in its yearning reaches out
for the distant shout of a star
as it burns and burns with desire
for the white noise of the universe
breathing in another's ear.
Taken from Body Parts by Brian McCabe. Cannongate Books,£7.99, ISBN 0 86241 877 1